Surprised by the level of interest Scottsdale residents have in how they are represented at City Hall — though few others are — members of the City Council are lining up behind referring to voters the question of a district electoral system for their seats.
Some like the “Straight Six” plan of six districts plus a mayor elected at-large, holding that it's more responsive. Others don’t like it all, but saw the good reception the public gave an initiative-petition campaign on the issue this summer. They now know the direction of the political winds they had earlier ignored, or at best, de-emphasized, when a citizens’ commission they had appointed overwhelmingly supported the “Straight Six” plan. The council’s refusal at that time to put the measure on the ballot led incensed residents to start the signature drive.
Council members unduly criticized the commission in June by sputtering the too-common mantra that the matter still needed study by city staff as well as a new round of hearings — after the panel had already spent hundreds of hours doing the same thing.
The council didn’t realize that Scottsdale residents, disgusted with their council’s performance over the past five years, want more responsible city government, that they cared enough about that to start gathering thousands of petition signatures, and that people thus annoyed would continue to take out their frustrations out on incumbents next March.
This was an opportunity for council leadership, to truly listen what their constituents were saying. The council could have considered putting on the ballot both the “Straight Six” option and a less-palatable hybrid system of both at-large- and district-elected council members. The public could have then decided which, if either, of the plans it wanted and the city would have had clear public direction.
Instead, the council balked. In addition to “more study,” words such as “maybe” and “October” could be heard from the council dais.
Direct democracy should be revered and allowed to proceed; once the petition drive started the council had already had its chance to act. It had failed to do so and for no good reason. With petitions flying about, however, light now seems to have shined into previously darkened minds — and the initiative will give way to the referendum petitioners wanted in the first place.
The public should take note of this little political backstep in its assessment of incumbents seeking its votes next spring.